Iris Apfel was right. If you own a pair of good shoes and great hair the world is yours! Although not so hard to find a great pair of shoes, acquiring great hair is a whole new challenge. Why is it that your hair always looks ab fab just when you are about to step into the shower, go swimming or on those weekends lounging at home but never on that all important day when you need it… Fortunately I know a few tricks on how to get my hair as lovely and gleaming as possible and I will let you know how! As there is so much to talk about with haircare I’ll start with the shampoo.
It begins with a good shampoo
Up until 1930 ordinary soap was used to clean hair. This wasn’t very pleasant as the combination of hard water and strong de-greasing soap made hair dull and the scalp irritated. The first authentic shampoos didn’t come onto the market until synthetic soaps had been developed. The purpose of shampoos is to remove sebum, sweat, dead skin cells, styling products and dirt from the scalp. A shampoo developed purely for cleaning is made in this way but will leave your hair looking rather like a scarecrow. Your hair will definitely be clean but also dull, course and difficult to style. We not only want attractive hair but also volume, shine and resilience. And the shampoo manufacturers have, of course, understood this. You can find a shampoo for each and every hair type and style desire. But what does shampoo contain and how do you choose wisely? There is so much information to share with you about shampoos so I am going to divide it into separate blogs. The first blog in this series may not be the most interesting but nevertheless a very important one, because a good shampoo which suits your hair is a must!
Your hair is completely dead! But before you go dashing off to the hairdresser, this doesn’t just mean you, but everyone… The living cells in the skin on your scalp produce dead material (proteins and, in particular, keratin) and if you have ruined your hair then the damaged hair is unable to repair itself. Sad but true! The hair has a thin layer of oil which gives it that lovely shine and protects it from damage. By too much drying, curling, colouring or using aggressive hair products you destroy the protective oily layer and your hair becomes dull, dry and frizzy with split ends. If you want your hair to stay beautiful then it is essential that this oily layer remains intact or if damaged then that it is synthetically replaced. And that is the power of a good shampoo. The perfect shampoo removes grease and dirt from the scalp and replaces what is necessary in the hair without irritating the scalp and makes sure that the protective layer on the hair remains intact or is even strengthened. In order to choose a good shampoo you should not only have a careful look at your own hair but along with this the INCI list. And this last one is not so easy….
What makes a shampoo a shampoo
As the name suggests detergents (or surfactants) eliminate dirt and grease from the hair and scalp. The most powerful cleansers are the Lauryl Sulphates from which Sodium Lauryl Sulphate is the most widely used. Lauryl Sulphates are mainly used in shampoos because they are good Cleansers and foam easily but unfortunately they can also seriously irritate the scalp and damage the hair. So this is not such a good option. A somewhat milder but also an effective de-greasing option, though also unkind to hair and scalp, are the sulfosuccinates (Disodium Oleamido Sulfosuccinate, Sodium Dioctyl Sulfosuccinate). These substances, just like Lauryl Sulphates, are often used in shampoos for greasy hair but are best avoided if they are not really necessary. Laureth sulphates and sarcosines are used in many shampoos and these are milder than the ingredients mentioned above but are also less efficient de-greasers. This makes them more suitable for an everyday shampoo or shampoo for dry hair. Cocamidopropyl Betaine and Sodium Lauraminopropionate are widely used in baby shampoos. These substances are mild and don’t irritate the eyes and, as well as baby shampoos, are also a good choice for coloured or fine hair. Cationic surfactants such as Quaternary Ammonium Salts Polyoxyethylene Alkyl and Alicyclic Amines are also less effective at de-greasing and foaming but are super for making the hair soft and manageable and so are used in Cleansers requiring minimal cleansing, such as daily use shampoos and for coloured hair.
In recent times you hear more and more of natural washing agents being used. These natural detergents come from plants such as sarsaparilla, soapwort, soapbark and ivy Agave but because they are not powerful cleansers a high concentration of these substances is required (with all its associated disadvantages) and they are generally combined with synthetic surfactants. So again a good example of marketing! In order to protect your hair against damage and to keep de-greasing to a minimum it is important that you use the shampoo on the scalp and only wash the hair itself when rinsing. This definitely applies to powerful cleansing shampoos and anti-dandruff shampoos…
Foaming agents added to a shampoo are really there for the consumer. It is true to say that the foam helps the shampoo spread over the hair and scalp but it is not necessary to make the hair clean. In fact, the more foamy a product the greater the chance of skin irritation. And the fact that shampoo is less foamy on greasy hair than on clean hair is not to do with the degree of cleansing but to do with the effect of grease on bubble forming.
Thickeners, preservatives, colour- and fragrances:
Thickening agents such as Sodium Chloride are added, as are foaming agents, because the consumer thinks that the product cleans more thoroughly. The smell and colour of the shampoo also have very little use and if your scalp is prone to irritation then these substances are best avoided. All shampoos, of course, contain preservatives, even the so-called ‘free from preservatives’ products. This is fortunate, as otherwise your product would, in no time, turn into a dangerous substance covered in mould and bacteria. Sadly I often see old style preservatives being used in shampoos; if you are smart you’ll avoid shampoos with preservatives such as Methylisothiazolinone, Quaternium 15, Imidazolidinyl Urea or Triclosan.
Important substances always added to shampoos are the so-called ‘sequestering agents’. Without these substances, such as pPolyphosphates and EDTA, then the combination of shampoos with hard water would leave a soapy scum behind which can cause problems for your hair and scalp. The same layer of scum can be found in your kettle, bath and on that heating element in the washing machine which you see on the adverts. This is why you should avoid washing with ordinary soap.
Cleansing alone makes the hair become dull and course but with conditioning ingredients your hair will be smooth and shiny again. These substances temporarily put a thick layer onto the hair and cover up the damaged parts. They also prevent your hair from becoming static. The main ingredients used are: Hydrolysed Animal Protein, Glycerine, Dimethicone, Polyvinylpyrrolidone and Stearalkonium Chloride. Oils added to haircare products have the same function but silicone type substances such as Dimethicone and Hydrolysed Proteins are more effective. It is a fairy tale that silicones suffocate your hair. Hair is not alive! Hydrolysed protein is the most effective of these substances for extremely dry hair and split ends because it can penetrate the hair shaft and in this way can temporarily coat the damaged parts. It is very important that the proteins are hydrolysed otherwise it won’t penetrate deeply enough and will wash straight off again.
For the last category, the active ingredients. This is how shampoos can be individually distinguished. This may be vitamins, but can even be diamonds or caffeine. In most cases these additions have little purpose, your hair is dead and, furthermore, before the active ingredients have time to penetrate the scalp you have already rinsed the shampoo off. So really a waste of money! If you suffer from dandruff, psoriasis or seborrheic eczema then the addition of Zinc Pyrithione, Salicylic Acid, Selenium Sulphide, Sulphur or Ketoconazole is beneficial. If you don’t suffer from any of these then don’t use these shampoos.
If, after reading this blog, you are still sitting there puzzling over your hair, I’ll be providing you with some suitable products next time. If you think it is clear now just a caution, since the quality of a shampoo is mainly determined by the choice of the cleansing and conditioning ingredients, and these are not very expensive, then you really don’t have to spend a fortune on a shampoo. And if you always leave the hairdressing salon with a bag full of goodies and an empty purse; salon products are often more expensive than the products in the shops, even though they contain the same ingredients as those from the pharmacy or shop. Having said that your hairdressing salon may well have a very nice shampoo that you cannot buy in the shop! In my next blog I will have some more tips on how to keep the chances of a bad hair day to a minimum; to be continued…
(Dr. Jetske Ultee – Research Physician Cosmetic Dermatology)
You can also read:
‘With Skin and Hair’,
‘What is the Situation with Parabens?’,
‘Dehydrated Skin (and Hydrating Substances)’.